MORGANTOWN — West Virginia took care of the biggest piece of offseason business June 24, long before the Mountaineers started preseason practice Thursday at Mountaineer Field. Clint Trickett was named the starting quarterback despite missing spring football and watching Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and Logan Moore attempt to distinguish themselves in his absence.
Never, though, did one of them do enough to keep Dana Holgorsen from pulling the trigger from a distance. While Holgorsen never saw Trickett play in the 15 spring practices, he saw a scenario in which a healthy Trickett was the best option for an offense that needed a figurehead.
Holgorsen just needed a healthy Trickett following surgery in January to repair damage done to the AC joint, labrum and rotator cuff in his right/throwing shoulder. The fifth-year senior was given the green light just before Holgorsen named him the starter and Trickett took it from there during workouts. He began his second season with the Mountaineers as the unquestioned leader throwing crisp passes in easy drills Thursday.
“There’s a rapport that needs to exist with him and the receivers in order to be successful,” Holgorsen said. “They need to understand each and every one of their little nuances when it comes to being able to get open and sign language and a nod here and a cut‑off there. And all that’s starting to exist right now with him and the rest of the guys. I think that’s all going to take care of itself.”
If it’s beneficial for Holgorsen, who before last year had never lost a starting quarterback to injury, but needed three to get through a 4-8 season, it’s just as purposeful for the Mountaineers. They didn’t have an opening day starter until 48 hours before the first game last year, and even then Holgorsen would only commit to Millard to start against William & Mary and vowed to get Trickett into the game.
Holgorsen would name his starter two days before the next four games, as well, first swapping Millard for Ford Childress against Georgia State and then picking Trickett over Millard and the injured Childress against Oklahoma State.
There’s no such uncertainty now.
“It’s huge,” Trickett said. “They know who to look to. I’m comfortable with it now. I don’t have to worry about that, either. I can focus on my game and not worry about when they’re going to make a decision. It’s huge. I was worried, all of us were worried in camp last year. We all wanted to win and maybe we worried about that too much instead of getting ourselves and the team better. But we don’t have to worry about that this season.”
The Mountaineers are not protected from all anxieties at quarterback, though. Trickett wasn’t able to fully participate in offseason conditioning and is still “a light kid,” according to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson. Trickett is listed at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. William Crest, a freshman who’s yet to go through years of college football strength and conditioning programs, never mind throw a pass that matters on campus, is listed at the same height and 35 pounds heavier.
“That’s not going to change,” Holgorsen said. “Clint’s a tough kid. He just needs to learn how to manage it.”
Trickett was 2-5 as the starter last season, but really only healthy for three games. Even those have asterisks.
He was fresh for his first start against Oklahoma State, but he hurt his shoulder late in the win. He had five weeks and four games to get used to that in a win against TCU, but Trickett later admitted he suffered a concussion in a loss to Kansas State a week before the TCU game. He was knocked out of the loss to Texas a week after the TCU game and missed the loss to Kansas, but then had an open week to get ready for the season-ending loss to Iowa State.
In the wins against Oklahoma State and TCU and the loss to Iowa State, Trickett was 70-for-128 (54.7 percent) for 932 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. In his other starts, he was 53-for-103 (51.5 percent) for 673 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“It is part of the game and people do have to play injured, but knowing the one time I was really healthy we weren’t that bad and pulled off a pretty good one (against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State) and the rest of the time I wasn’t, that’s definitely frustrating,” Trickett said. “You just wonder, ‘What if?’ ”
He’s not alone there, and the Mountaineers would rather not have that enter their thought process this season.
The coaches know what they have in Millard, a senior who knows the offense better than anyone at the position and has played more in it than anyone on the roster, but someone who can’t avoid pressure and is prone to turnovers.
After that, WVU has Crest and fellow newcomer Howard, a junior college transfer who went through spring football, and Moore, a former Division II quarterback who really hadn’t played quarterback at WVU before this spring and is an emergency option only this season.
It’s one thing for Holgorsen to install Trickett early. It’s another to make sure his quarterback stays there, which is why the Mountaineers are making that part a big of this camp. Holgorsen said coaches are working with Trickett on self-preservation so he avoids hits and can stay on the field.
“We’ll study the film for (Thursday), even with it being no-contact, so he can understand, ‘I didn’t trigger the ball here. I would have gotten hit. I worked out of the pocket here and tried to get away from the guy and didn’t throw it when he got within arm’s reach of me,’ ” Holgorsen said. “He’s got to work on it through all the reps. Even though we won’t touch him this camp, we will be able to say, ‘Look, man, you should have done this and not done that.’ ”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.